Selena Gomez is just a young ‘un. A young ‘un with a CV longer than she is tall, mind: actress, singer, entrepreneur, philanthropist.
But having recently turned the big one-eight, things for Gomez are getting serious now. This year sees the Disney-wrought pop princess make her silver screen debut and her band – Selena Gomez & The Scene is an actual group, not a clever moniker – release their second album proper, A Year Without Rain.
Simple, one thinks. Disposable tween fodder with perhaps a track or two worth a smidgen of airplay. But this is an LP canny enough to shun the saccharine sweetness of comparable acts: The Scene, indeed, are a legitimate bunch of musicians, and writers and producers in effect here range from Toby Gad to Fefe Dobson.
A Year Without Rain has, unsurprisingly, sold by the bucketload in the US, and the same is true for lead single and album opener Round & Round. A smart cut of catchy dance pop, accusations of overproduction make little headway against Gomez’s vibrant performance. Be warned, though: that rather unnecessary touch of auto-tune only gets worse and proceedings wear on.
The title track and second single follows – see what they did there? – and reaps rewards with an impressively heartbroken stab at euro-dance. Okay, so Gomez isn’t exactly Karin Dreijer Andersson, but her mature performance here is certainly at odds with her former incarnation as the child star of Wizards Of Waverly Place.
Naturally, similarly, though not particularly strongly written, is saved by polished production and vocal charisma. Rock God, too, wheels out the merits of the “Disney Katy Perry” (the real Miss Perry, indeed, lends background vocals). There’s even time for the unlikeliest – though perhaps imagined – Pixies reference of the year: “So come on over, Romeo / And vamos a la playa,” chirps Gomez on the lively Summer’s Not Hot.
With the authentic-sounding, Robyn-esque Intuition, expectations of pop fatigue are pleasingly, if temporarily, dismissed: Spotlight soon trots out the sort of light R’n’B hitherto sidestepped – cranking up the auto-tune to almost unlistenable levels – and is only partially redeemed by its tour de force chorus.
The virtues and vices of the obligatory ballads then raise their heads: Ghost Of You passes uneventfully, its overriding impression one of a professional exercise in box-ticking, while album closer Live Like There’s No Tomorrow – though no doubt the result of a similar exercise – stumbles upon emotional resonance thanks in no small part to Gomez’s most impressive performance to date.
It would be the easiest thing in the world to dismiss A Year Without Rain as a cynical implementation of fan base exploitation; Gomez is, with regards to a certain demographic, a licence to print money. She also, however, boasts an embarrassment of talents, and those talents are more often than not afforded the space to breathe on a solid pop offering.